May 18 2011: We met for our last session before the summer break. We took a quick “stroll” through the book of Acts. We noted the following:
1. Acts covers a span of 30 years, approximately 34 AD to 64 AD. 25% of Acts represents speeches given by the apostles.
2. The values of the early church are clearly stated in 2:43. This represents a spirit of community which fostered service, prayer, worship and unity among believers. In these golden days in the first few years in Jerusalem, believers were added by the thousands, primarily attracted by the conviction of the preaching and the lifestyle of the adherents. The actions of the Christians gave credibility to their message.
3. The first half of Acts (ch 1-12) feature Peter, who is mentioned more times in the NT than anyone other than Jesus. We also see, in ch 7, the martyrdom of Stephen and the rise of persection among the early church. Saul has a part in this, and the believers scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.
4. In ch 10 we have the watershed epiphany in which Peter sees that “truly God shows no partiality,” and the spread of the message to Gentiles begins in earnest.
5. Chapters 13-28 feature Paul, beginning with his Damascus Road conversion. The early Christians move out to the edges of the civilized world with their radical message of God’s grace, “turning the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6) The end of Acts leaves us hanging as to whether or not Paul was martyred or released from his house arrest in Rome. The ancient world is silent on his fate which leaves us with many questions. Was Acts written just before his death? If so, why was no postscript ever added as to his fate if it was known? Why is it such a pervasive belief that he was martyred if no evidence exists? If he was not martyred, how does that impact the message of Acts?
The themes of Acts are the geographical spread of the message, through the power of the Holy Spirit. It becomes a message for all the nations and all the peoples. The “two men in white” have been a consistent presence in Lukan writing, i.e. Acts 1:10-11, Luke 24:4, Luke 9:3031. We suppose that this points to a continuity with Moses (law) and Elijah (prophet) as foundation for the new church. Also, it points to the Church as a fulfillment of Jewish scripture. There is in Acts an emphasis on unity and harmony in the Church under the direction of the Holy Spirit. We see from the key scripture, Acts 1:8, that being a witness to the power of God is the heart of discipleship.